Against the St. Cloud Tech Tigers girls' hockey team Thursday, Brainerd Warrior goalie Val Benjamin was in that special place athletes rarely get to visit.
She was in a zone.
Benjamin was peppered by 48 shots from the talented Tigers, stopping 43 in a 5-0 Central Lakes Conference loss at Brainerd Area Civic Center.
If any other goalie would've been in goal, the Tigers would surely have scored in double digits as they ripped off a number of breakaway and point-blank tries.
But Benjamin stonewalled Tech.
"Val is really playing phenomenal," Ernster said. "She's coming out more and challenging the shooter. When the shot is taken she's much more cognizant of catching the puck or covering up rebounds. That's a maturity thing on her part.
"She's being more of a presence, especially when things are going bad."
Things started off on the wrong foot from the start.
St. Cloud Tech 5, Warriors 0
The key: BHS was outshot 48-12.
Next: at Sartell, 2 p.m. Saturday
Twice early in the first period, Tigers forward Katelyn Dold rushed Benjamin and twice Dold was turned away.
At the 8:49 mark, Tech forward Andrea Herold, who recorded a hat trick, weaved her way around the Warrior defense and slipped the puck past Benjamin's stick side.
Things went from bad to worse for Brainerd in the second as Tech converted 2-of-3 penalties on its way to three goals, showering Benjamin with 22 shots.
"Tech can pass the puck, they can shoot the puck," Ernster said. "They have all the elements you need to be a quality hockey team. They play a tough schedule and put themselves through the ringer.
"When you're just learning hockey you're told not to pass through people. Tech can make those passes through girls."
The Warriors got a few shots on goal in third on a penalty, but Tigers goalie Michelle Martin scrambled to ensure the shutout. Brainerd's biggest downfall on offense was its inability to make the necessary passes to the outlet players up ice.
"When we did get a loose puck we weren't quick enough in the transition," Ernster said. "The defense was just a split second getting it to our winger. You need more than one pass. You can't go defense to center and have your center skate it out of the zone."
It was Benjamin's game to showcase how much she's improved since the beginning of the season. And, a little competition for playing time with teammate Aimie Meyer didn't hurt to push Benjamin.
"If this would've been in November I would've been surprised," Ernster said of Benjamin's play. "Val's getting stronger and her practice habits just keep getting better each day.
"Amy and Val push each other. Both our goalies want to play so the competition is healthy."
St. Cloud Tech 1 3 1 -- 5
Brainerd 0 0 0 -- 0
First period -- SCT-Andrea Herold 8:49.
Second period -- SCT-Herold (Engdahl) ppg 1:18; SCT-Katelyn Dold (Jaci Lang, Katie Cowardin) ppg 15:26; SCT-Herold (Lang, Morgan Landwehr) 16:59.
Third period -- SCT-Amy Winter (Annie Green, Jackie Ward) 2:48.
Shots on goal -- B 5-1-6 -- 12, SCT 14-22-12 -- 48.
Goalies -- B-Val Benjamin (43 saves), SCT-Michelle Martin (12 saves).
Power-play opportunities -- B 0-3, SCT 2-4.
Conference -- B 2-5-1, SCT 8-0. Overall -- B 7-9-1, SCT 14-6. Next game -- Brainerd at Sartell 2 p.m. Saturday.
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